Writing Illini will admit that with all the talk about SIU’s 70-7 win in its opener and questions surrounding Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, we allowed ourselves to overestimate the Salukis.
Though there was still enough faith that the Illini would pull out the victory, we predicted a much closer game than the one that unfolded on Saturday.
While Illinois’ point total was almost on the money, the Salukis proved to be no match for the Illini defense, managing only 3 points following an interception at the Illinois 20-yard line.
Besides Illinois losing the turnover game, there’s really nothing to complain about last Saturday’s dominating performance, as explained in the weekly post-game analysis.
Final Score: Illinois 35, SIU 3
The full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.
The Fighting Illini came out Saturday ready to prove that you can’t fall asleep on this team just yet. From the opening kick, Illinois simply dominated in all aspects of the game.
Illinois was able to run and pass the ball, and both lines easily overpowered the smaller SIU players.
The dreaded SIU pass game never materialized, with the Salukis rarely managing to cross the 50 yard line.
Quite simply, Illinois looked great in its home opener, and if the team continues to play at this level, Writing Illini’s preseason predictions seem quite plausible.
Nick Houska’s Illini Game Ball
● Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase
After Scheelhaase turned the ball over four times against Missouri, much of the discussion leading up to the SIU game surrounded around whether or not the freshman quarterback could take care of the ball and lead the Illinois offense.
Scheelhaase more than answered the questions on Saturday night.
The freshman threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns on an impressive 14-for-18 passing. More importantly, Scheelhaase didn’t turn the ball over.
He had several long passes, including a 54 yard bullet to A.J. Jenkins for a touchdown, and was able to throw both in the pocket and when scrambling around the backfield.
While a few of his long balls may have gone the other way against a better defense (see Missouri), Scheelhaase had the impressive game he needed to build his team’s confidence and prove that Illinois could do more than just run the ball.
Scheelhaase was so impressive on Saturday that he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week earlier today.
Chris Maynard’s Illini Game Ball
● The Illini Defense
Individually, I’d go with Scheelhaase as well, who seems to get over mistakes quickly and move from one play to the next quite well.
Especially impressive against SIU were Scheelhaase essentially creating a touchdown with his legs on a pass to Justin Lattimore in the third quarter and staying strong in the pocket while getting hammered on a couple of throws early in the first quarter.
While Scheelhaase shined, I’ve been very happy with the Illinois defense thus far.
Through two weeks, the Illini defense has been much better than anyone expected well before it got hit with injuries and suspensions.
While a few more turnovers would be nice, the Illini defense has bent but not broken for the most part in the early part of the 2010 season, with Ian Thomas and Travon Bellamy especially standing out thus far for me, and Nate Bussey supplying a couple of big hits here and there.
The defensive line has been steady and the secondary hasn’t been picked apart yet, with Justin Green making a nice transition from running back.
Now if the Illini can get some more overall consistency from Martez Wilson, who is third in the team in tackles but not in on enough plays in my opinion.
Other Players Worth Mentioning
● Mikel Leshoure
Leshoure continued his impressive season with another 100+ yard game. Despite getting 5 fewer touches this week, he still racked up 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.
That seems like nothing when compared the Howard Griffith’s amazing 8-touchdown game from 20 years ago, but it’s still quite impressive and keeps Leshoure’s Doak Walker hopes alive.
● Derek Dimke
While he did not have to kick any field goals this game, Dimke was 5/5 for PAT’s and remains perfect in his career.
While the Illini should hopefully be able to score on NIU as well, the following two games against Ohio State and Penn State will surely require Dimke to put some points on the board.
● Ian Thomas
Another solid game from the junior. Thomas is showcasing his ability to get in the backfield and stop the run. His pressure on Saluki quarterback Chris Dieker all game was a big reason the quarterback was only 19-for-35.
● A.J. Jenkins
Jenkins made a great adjustment on a first-quarter touchdown pass from Scheelhaase that was slightly behind him and finished with 8 receptions for 147 yards, all the while looking like a downfield threat.
● Whitney Mercilus
The defensive end got more playing time with Michael Buchanan suspended and provided some very nice pressure off the edges on Saturday night.
● Jarred Fayson
6 receptions for 36 yards may not seem like a much, but it would be nice to see Illinois develop a possession receiver that Scheelhaase can check down to and make safe throws. Fayson played that part on Saturday night.
● Offensive Line
After a rough game against Missouri, the Illini overpowered the Salukis up front and didn’t have any penalties. With the exception of failing to pick up a couple of early blitzes that resulted in Scheelhaase getting blown up while passing the ball, the offensive line was solid.
Nick Houska’s Pick
● Eddie McGee’s Passing Woes
The wide receiver/backup quarterback took three snaps under center against the Salukis. All three plays were passes, and all three passes were caught; the problem is that the opposing team caught two of them.
On a night when Scheelhaase looked like a veteran quarterback lighting up the SIU secondary for big yards, McGee struggled, looking more like a true freshman than a redshirt senior. McGee’s season passer rating is -72.
McGee was carted off the field Saturday after a gruesome play where a SIU defender plowed into his leg from behind. He has suffered a sprained ankle and is listed as doubtful for NIU next week.
Chris Maynard’s Pick
● Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino
Let me clarify that Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning have impressed through two weeks and were very good against Southern Illinois. I especially liked the fact that Petrino got backup running backs Jason Ford and Troy Pollard going as well.
My one and only complaint with Petrino on Saturday night was that he got a bit greedy and too cute when bringing back in McGee at quarterback following a bad interception.
I understand what Illinois is trying to do, but I say ride and die with Scheelhaase and let McGee develop as a third or fourth receiver rather than transitioning back and forth, that is unless Scheelhaase gets hurt.
There were no real downfalls in this game. Illinois dominated on both sides of the ball and kept itself from making the same mistakes that doomed the Illini against Missouri.
Illinois should carry its confidence into the NIU game before beginning its brutal Big Ten opening stretch.
Despite dominating, Illinois still lost the turnover game 3 to 2.
Quite frankly, Illinois’ turnovers were the result of some really poor decisions (two bad throws by McGee and an indecisive play by Jack Ramsey while receiving a punt) that need to be avoided.
Luckily, the Illini defense has generally held strong following turnovers in the first two weeks of the 2010 season.
While Illinois has been much more disciplined and focused this year than in past seasons, such avoidable mistakes won’t cut it against the Big Ten’s top and middle-tier teams.
Writing Illini Prediction Record: 2-0 (100%)
Up next, the Illini face a talented Northern Illinois team at home.
Be sure to check back in later this week for a preview of the Huskies and a prediction on the NIU-UI game.
Some SIU-UI Post-Game Stories
Topics: A.J. Jenkins, Derek Dimke, Eddie McGee, Football, Ian Thomas, Illinois Fighting Illini Football, Illlinois Football, Jarred Fayson, Jason Ford, Justin Green, Justin Lattimore, Martez Wilson, Mikel Leshoure, Nate Bussey, Nathan Scheelhaase, Paul Petrino, Ron Zook, Salukis Football, Southern Illinois Football, Southern Illinois Salukis Football, Travon Bellamy, Troy Pollard, Vic Koenning, Whitney Mercilus